An Ode to Spiritual Mothers

Some of the very best mothers I know don’t have children, at least not physically. Two of them are young, single women raising siblings with special needs or foster children. Two more married later in life, beyond child-bearing years; yet they have more children whom they feed and nurture and protect and guide than the Duggers. Still others, well past their own mothering years and well into their grandmothering years, continue to invest intentionally in the lives of younger women.

They probably don’t get invited to special Mother’s teas and Muffins for Moms.  They likely don’t receive tender trinkets presented by eager little hands; however, they are every bit as much mothers as those who have raised physical children.

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Spiritual mothers deserve to be showered with our thanks and affection. While it may not be appropriate for us to make play-dough bowls or paper flowers to present to them, we are called to honor them for the ways they have invested their lives.

In his letter to the Jewish believers, the writer of Hebrews encourages us to remember, to study and to imitate spiritual parents.

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).

Remember Spiritual Mothers
The Greek word for remember is mnémoneuó, which aside from being a mouthful, means to call to mind, to hold in remembrance, to recollect or even to rehearse. Fittingly, it is from this root word that we derive our phrase mnemonic devices (like My very excellent mother just served noodles to remember the order of the planets in our Solar System).

The writer challenged the Church to continually call to mind and to remember those who had invested in them and others. We are asked to rehearse, to go over and over, the ways in which they have served the spiritual family.

Study Spiritual Mothers
First we are called to remember and to notice them.  Then we are called to look intently at the ways they have lived their lives.

The Greek word  anatheóreó, translated consider above, means to gaze upon, to look intently at, or even to dote upon.  While we are commanded to study their lives, we also have every reason to be compelled to study them, their practices, their priorities and the outcomes they have shaped. And we are not limited to those we know in time and space.

While I have never met Amy Carmichael or Elisabeth Elliot or Corrie Ten Boom, these women have nurtured me. I hear phrases they have written and mottoes by which they have lived regularly in my daily life with both my physical children and my spiritual stock. I have gazed long at their lives through biographies and sermons, and I am seeking to glean every ounce of wisdom I can from these spiritual matriarchs.

Imitate Spiritual Mothers
Lastly, the writer of Hebrews bids us imitate these spiritual mothers. The Greek Word  mimeiomai means to follow, to emulate. Just the reading of the word calls to mind our modern words mimic and mimeograph (the forefather of the copy machine). Interestingly enough, this word is always in the middle voice in the Greek. While we don’t use the middle voice often in English, the middle voice implies a high level of self-involvement. It assumes that we are highly motivated to mimic and follow the lives of our beloved leaders.

Thankfully, this last step flows naturally out of the first two. Once one has noticed the women who have spiritually mothered others and looked long and hard at the harvest of their long investments, it is almost impossible to not want to emulate their lives.

I wish it was a simple cut and paste project, this attempt to imitate the lives of the spiritual mothers who have gone before us. I  have tried that to no avail, as apparently I am not wired like Amy or Corrie or Betsy (my spiritual mothers on paper) or the handful of women who have faithfully invested in my life with their actual flesh and blood lives. No one else is in my exact situation or place with my exact personality and my calling; yet, I can distill principles from their lives that can applied to my context in nuanced ways.

This Sunday, as you receive a flower at your Church or get ready to be fed a homemade breakfast like the Queen of Sheba, remember those who have spiritually mothered you. Notice them. Dote on them. And then spend the rest of your life seeking to imitate them as they imitate Christ.

 

Validation

“Have you been validated?”  The question felt more than a little intrusive coming from a waitress bringing us eggs. How did she, a random waitress, know the depths of my insecurities and desperate hunt for validation?

It turns out she was talking about parking. Upon moving to San Diego, we entered a whole new world in every way, including parking. When parking in a mall or shopping center’s provided parking structures, one is expected to bring a small card to a small machine in said mall to prove that one was, indeed, at said place for said time.

This whole parking validation world was new to me; unfortunately, what was not new to me was my deep need for validation. If only one could validate one’s being by inserting a card into a machine.

The word validate literally means to make valid and comes from the Latin word valere, meaning to be strong, to be well, to be worth. Every human, like every parking pass, it seems, needs validation.

We seek for validation in countless avenues.  Some travel the road to fame and fortune in search for validation, others strolls streets of significance. Still others loiter on relational lanes seeking worth and worthiness. Whether we are looking for validation in a paycheck, a marriage license, a report card, a pant size or the result of an interview, the hunger is the same: to be measured and found ample and important, needed and necessary.

I know the right answer: the ultimate source of validation comes from God alone, through grace alone and by faith alone in Christ. Yet, I find myself vying for validation from my friends and family, my chores and checks, and even from my ministry.

My response to such a deep hunger to be validated, even as a believer, used to secretly sound something like this: “What is wrong with you? Don’t you know that you have been validated by Christ’s victory on the Cross? You have His approval. He determines your worth.”

While I still testify to those timeless truths, the tone has begun to change over time. The conversation between God and I have switched from being highly informational to more intimate. Perhaps the switch of tone can be attributed to the fact that I have children who, despite being raised in a (mostly) secure, loving and affirming home, still pander after the praise of their parents. After spending hours working on Lego droids of their own dreaming, they still come clamoring for my praise, wanting to describe every detail and point out every unique feature on repeat until I, too, am enamored with their handiwork.

They are inviting me into their delight in their work. They want to share their joy. And they have come to me, the authority and adult in the home. They can have all the praise of their brothers and friends, but they still long for my stamp of pride and seal of approval. For to validate our validation, we need to be certain it comes from the highest source.

To have your mom tell you are good at soccer or art means very little compared to hearing such praise from Messi or Mr. Pappy. To have a mediocre boss impressed with your work means little compared to the applause of the authorities in that milieu. Just now, my five year old came to show me the Star Wars book he has been working on for days. It is one thing for me to applaud him, but it would be quite another for George Lucas to affirm him!

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We need our validation to come from a valid source and our praise to come from an apt authority otherwise, the significance won’t stick. What is unbelievable about the Christian’s validation is that the One we are to naturally run to for validation is both Our loving Father and the Authority on all things!

Just as my children bring their work to me to invite me into their delight and to give me opportunity to speak profound praise into their hungry souls, God invites us to continually bring our vying for validation to Him. When we are hit with a wave of insecurity or drowning in the desperate need for someone to see and acknowledge our uniqueness, God delights in our coming to Him. He is not put off by our intrusions or our constant need to be affirmed. After all, He is our Father.

When we come to Him as such, three things will surely happen. First, He will gladly welcome us. Second, He will proudly point us to His One True Son, as if to say, “Look at Him! You matter so very much to me that I was willing to send my Son to suffer so you could bask in my praise.” Thirdly, the doting affection of the One True Authority, the Eternal judge will begin to swallow up my desperate hunger for lesser validation from lesser judges.

 

Authority & Autonomy

Authority is often considered a dirty word in our culture. People who have been nurtured on American values have a tough time swallowing the concept of any authority, particularly an absolute one. We like freedom and choice, which are indeed amazing gifts that were purchased for us by the lives of countless brave men, women and children who fought for such rights. Yet, freedom and choice must be balanced by authority. 

At the beginning, in the world as it was meant to be, authority had no such negative connotation. God’s loving, protective authority over the lush land He created and the dynamic duo that crowned His creation was the understood context that ordered the perfect shalom that existed. Authority was experienced as relational care, provision and protection in the atmosphere of adoration in the garden.

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Yet, we all know how quickly humanity traded such loving authority for an audacious autonomy. In The Drama of Scriptures, writers Bartholomew and Goheen recognize that the temptation faced by the first humans in the garden was one to autonomy. 

“The temptation they face through the serpent is to assert their autonomy: to become a law unto themselves. Autonomy means choosing oneself as the source for determining what is right and wrong, rather than relying on God’s Word for direction.”

Since then, we have continued in the way of our parents, claiming our own autonomy even when it annihilates any chance of a peace, protection and provision that could flow from a loving yet authoritative God. We have seen authority abused time and time again, and as such, we overcorrect by throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

It seems we have three stances toward authority: ambition to gain authority, abhorrence of authority or an ambivalence towards authority.

However, there is a glorious encounter in Scripture that depicts Jesus as having lived His life under the absolute authority of the Father in such a way as to redeem authority.

The Centurion was a military man, well acquainted with rank and command.  Just as our current military personnel know what it means to live under authority, the Roman military men knew a thing or two about power and priority.  As someone in the power structure, it is probably safe to assume that he was attempting to gain authority. Yet, this powerful and most likely successful military leader hit a wall that his authority could not climb in the serious sickness of one of his servants.

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”…And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go, let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment (Matthew 8: 5-13). 

The Centurion, not of the Jewish lineage, recognizes in Jesus Christ what most of God’s own chosen people have completely missed: this Jesus of Nazareth is a man of great authority under the command of a greater authority than the world has ever known.

The Centurion also sees something in the nature and character of this Jesus that tells him that He is the type who would wield His authority for the service and welfare of others, even the poorest servants who are accustomed to being stepped on by powers and authorities.

Like notices like, but the Centurion is also quick to notice that He is the presence of another kind of authority altogether. As such, he sees his own lack of worthiness, yet trusts that Jesus will graciously grant his request, not on the basis of the centurion’s track record or lineage, but because of the goodness and character of this ultimate authority.

Our demands for autonomy will be quieted and calmed in the presence of the loving authority of Jesus. For He who laid down His ultimate autonomy to be sentenced by broken human authorities to death on a Cross will most assuredly change our view on living under the authority of God.

To live under the authority of such an altruistic, sacrificial God is to be put into the path of life. To come under His provision and protection and to order our lives in light of His priorities are the initial steps back toward the garden from which we were banished after claiming our autonomy.

Safety Scissor Theology

Scissors frequently go missing in our home. I presume that they run off with the rebellious socks who flee their matches and the Tupperware lids who jilt their respective containers.  This morning, I found my adult hands forced into a pair of barely metal safety scissors trying to cut through thick cardboard. Safety scissors really don’t do much; while they have the shape of scissors, they are not sharp enough to do the work scissors are intended to do.

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My harrowing experience with the safety scissors this morning got me thinking about theology. Safety scissor theology tells us the promises of God without the commands, offers easy-believism, Jesus as the top-off to an already existing life. Like safety scissors, such threadbare theology shares a common shape with Biblical theology, but it doesn’t work. It doesn’t hold up under suffering, and it cannot cut through the hard places of our hearts.

I actually saw a bumper sticker the other day in traffic that perfectly summed up what this safety scissor theology: Add Jesus, written in the form of the Adidas symbol.

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Just add Jesus to your current life, put Christ as the cherry on top of your search for satisfaction. Come to the Word when you want and find a promise that you can just add onto your life like a Girl Scout pin.

I know Safety Scissor theology well, because in my flesh, it was what I look for and what I want to offer to people around me. As prompted by the bumper of the car in front of me, I want to add Jesus to finish off what is lacking and attach pretty promises to life.

But the Word of God is not a la carte, and Jesus is not safe. When we submit to God’s Word, which St. Augustine called the humble door, we put our whole lives under its authority.

We don’t get to pick and choose. We are called to prize its commands and its promises. We are not allowed to selectively choose the parts of our lives to which Jesus has access. We don’t get to come with a contract and have Jesus sign on the line after our demands for ease or security or comfort or safety.

While I know this for my own life, I find resistance when it comes to the lives of my children. I want them to know the Word, but I am hesitant to let the sharp edges of the Word of God and Jesus, the living Word, wreck their lives in love. I want them to know Him, but I often want to protect them from the suffering, pain, discipline and struggle that will likely be God’s handmaidens, ushering them into His presence.

As much as I cringe when I hear the Christian radio station advertising that safety for the whole family, I cringe even more when I realize that, in my heart of hearts, I often settle for wanting such safety scissor theology for them.

For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:12-13.

These Scriptures are more parts challenging and uncomfortable than safe and comforting.

When we place ourselves under the authority of God and His Word, we will be laid out on his operating table, exposed and naked under the hands of the Wounded Surgeon, as T. S. Eliot called God.

The Wounded Surgeon plies the steel,
That questions the distempered part; 
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art,
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
(T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets)

The Word of God and the Spirit of God will expose us, will force our lives under the searching and scorching light of God’s holiness. We will not be allowed to simply “Add Jesus” in a safe and comfortable way. The clarion call of the Scriptures and those who have been changed by them is “All Jesus.”

We will be cut and pierced by the Wounded Surgeon. Surgery of the soul will most assuredly hurt us before it heals us. It will not be safe; rather, it will result in a twin salvation and sanctification that will shake our false securities to the core.

However, on the other side of such sharp incisions, we will experience joy, wholeness and health that far exceed a false sense of safety. Safety scissors can’t do much, but the loving knife of the Scriptures in the hands of the Wounded Surgeon can do the impossible. They can make us alive to God, align us with His will and ways in the world and actually make us like Him.

 

Stingy Hearts and Supernatural Love

I found myself in tears in traffic today and not for what you might imagine. While I do, indeed, hate traffic, and tis true that San Diegans have no idea how to drive even in the lightest drizzle, I was not crying about my commute. I was crying about contentment.

You see, our oldest son has been enjoying an epic field trip to San Francisco with his father and all his school buddies. Gold mining, Pier 39, Alcatraz. Mixing foods into nasty concoctions at B grade restaurants, giggling on the bus and all the other gateway from elementary to middle school shenanigans. While I am thrilled for him, I have seen our middle son wrestling for the past few days. In him, I see my own wrestling before the Lord. Yet, I have also seen the Lord’s perspective on my wrestling in a fresh light.

We have always prayed that our boys would love each other like David and Jonathan, and God has been gracious to knit their souls together in like ways. They are best buddies, they share common interests and silly inside jokes that no one else on earth would find funny. Thus, it feels like a thousand stabs when one gets to experience something amazing without the other.

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Despite my best efforts to spice up our normal routine for the past few days, I have seen my son’s little deflated spirit trying so hard, but wrestling to be content. He has expressed both great joy that his brother is having such a great time and deep fear that he won’t experience the same, that he is missing out, that he has received the shorter end of the stick.

He forced a sweet smile as we ate special treats, and he will give me a tender hug tonight when I surprise him with a trip to an arcade/ diner (a boy’s version of Xanadu) tonight. Yet, those specials don’t fully make up for what he is missing. They cannot and they should not. He is wrestling to believe that we see him, hear him, know him and have good things for him.

I cried this morning in the car because I am just like him. I wrestle deeply with contentment. I feel torn even when those I love most deeply are blessed and lavished upon, fearing that there will not be enough to go around. I hate that I am that way. I wish I naturally just delighted in their delight, but it takes work and lots of wrestling to get there.

What brought me to tears this morning, mingling wet eyes with wet windshields, was seeing afresh the way the Father’s heart hurts with my heart when I am in those places of fear. My heart has been aching for my stuck at home son’s heart all week, as has his sweet brother who is away. We so desperately want him to know how deeply loved and seen he is. We want to pour out good things on him, and he will be showered with a heap of useless souvenirs purchased with care by his brother.

We repeat the fears and failings of our forefathers daily, us broken humans who no longer trust the heart of the Father. We look at the tree we have been refused and question the character of our Creator, certain He must be withholding from us. In a forest of trees of His provision, we focus on what we do not have.

Yet, the heart of the Father goes out to us in our wrestling and attempts to wrangle our sin. He sent His Son who climbed another tree, a cursed tree, that we might know fully and finally His character and His kind intentions toward us.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32.

He withholds not. He withdraws not from His children, even in their wrestlings to believe such wildly inconceivable love.

My tears today were for my son, but they were also for my own heart that fights against a stingy view of the God. Oh for the day when ours is full trust and full knowledge of His love, unaffected by human jealousies and fears and sins and insecurities.

A Radical Rock

I am raising rock hounds. While I am glad to be putting a fraction of those hours in various Biology labs that monopolized my college education to good use, I do grow weary of the piles of rocks I find everywhere in our home.

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From the amount of times God or His people talk about rocks in the Bible, one gets the idea that God, too, may be a bit of a rock hound. After all, He, the Rock, created all rocks with their different lusters and hardnesses and shapes and colors. I bet Heaven houses a rock collection that would put the Nat to shame.

Moses was graciously and protectively hidden in the cleft of the rock when God’s glory passed by (Exodus 33:22). He struck the Rock (two times, unfortunately) and water gushed forth to the thirsty people (Numbers 20). Even at the end of his life, before he passed the leadership baton onto Joshua, Moses sang of God using rock imagery: “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deut 32:4).

Oftentimes, after a decisive victory or a significant moment, God instructed His people to gather large rocks and set them atop one another as remembrances (1 Samuel 7:12).

David was ubiquitous in his use of rock imagery in the Psalms, as seen particularly in Psalm 61:1-3, but also in  Psalm 27: 5, Psalm 78:35 and Psalm 81:16. “Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” 

Jesus instructed His disciples, both then and now, to build their houses upon the Rock, rather than the shifting sand (Matthew 7:24).

Jesus said that man would not worship Him, the inanimate rocks themselves would cry out (Luke 19:40).

I love the image of God being my rock, I love to pray to the Rock of Ages, the steady and unchanging One. Clearly, I am not alone in this, as we have seen through the brief and cursory walk through the Bible searching for rocks. Yet, this week, while reading a book written by J.S. Stewart about the Church’s mission, an indictment regarding rocks rocked me (pun intended) to the core.

“Of those whose religious experience has meant the pleasant comfort and security of having a solid rock beneath their feet not all have realized that the rock is volcanic, and that sleeping volcanoes can awake. Long ago at Thessalonica the objection urged against the Gospel was that it ‘turned the world upside down’; and still wherever the Gospel comes, the authentic gospel- in India and Africa, in Britain and America – the same revolutionary force is unleashed.”

Guilty as charged. I love the static nature of the Gospel, I love that the work on the Cross is finished, that our hard labor is over (Isaiah 40:1-2). I love enjoying the stability and assurance that Christ purchased for us, I love knowing that I can be hidden in God’s presence, that I might approach the throne of grace with boldness through Him.

But I tend to shy away from the commands of the Gospel, the imperatives that are implied and pulled out of those indicative truths. The Gospel is static in that it is the same and always will be; however, it is dynamic in that it does work, it moves, it compels us to move to the outermost parts of the earth or at least the outermost parts of our comfort zones.

As Stewart so winsomely wrote, we are compelled into the mission of the Gospel: “The present age, by the fiat of God Himself, is to be characterized as the era of mission, in which every Christian is implicated…Like its Master, it was to take upon itself the burden of the plight of men, and to involve itself in all the conditions of their life on earth. From that warfare there is no discharge, from that concern of love no possible release, until God is all in all.”

The Rock is moving beneath our feet, moving the ends of the earth to know and love and worship Him who loved them while they were yet sinners.

No Camping

We are not big campers. We don’t own a tent. We barely have enough cheap store brand sleeping bags to keep warm if we were to camp within our own home. In fact, my children are quick to declare that their father is “Indoorsy.”

That being said, if I were with Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, I would have more than willing to join them in their plea to set up camp and live in tents right there.

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After all, they had come off of three years of intense, nomadic ministry training with Jesus. They had ministered to masses of fragmented, frail and fearful people. They were expecting Christ, any day now, to establish the kingdom on earth, to make wrong things right again, to restore Israel to the power and peace it had experienced in its golden days under Kings David and Solomon. Enough with the broken stuff, Jesus. Let’s move into the glory phase.

All three synoptic gospels include the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the Mount (see Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9). A picture is worth a thousand words, and it seems no words can do justice to what the three core disciples experienced and saw on that high mountain, although they tried.

And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Matthew 17: 2-5. 

Here was the Messiah they had expected: lifted high, exalted, glorified, radiant. This was the moment for which they and all of Israel had been waiting all those lonely centuries of silence.

Just as at His baptism in the River Jordan, the heavens could not hold back their applause on the favored Son of God. Jesus’ face beamed under the delight radiating out from His vocal Father in Heaven.

What comes next they never expected. The radiant, whole and holy Son of God would walk down the mountain resolved to climb a different hill for a much darker finale.

I long for order, wholeness, rightness, fullness. In the rare moments when I experience them, I desperately try to bottle it up so that I can save them and live on them forever. I want to build tents in those places, too.

But just as the disciples were to walk down the Mount of Transfiguration, taking the glimpses of fullness they had seen back among the fragmented flocks of humanity, we are called to be filled to get back down in the fray.

No Camping

Radiance, perfection, beauty.
Oh Lord, let us live on this height. 
We’ll build tents and live right here,
Where we saw glory in plain sight. 

For right here, our weariness waned,  
Burdens were banished – all was right. 
Insecurities secured, self right-sized
In godly fear without any fright. 

The Father said “Listen to Him,”
The path He takes leads to life.
Follow Him who left glory’s mount
And willingly entered the strife.

Brokenness, weariness, frailness
Await at the base of this hill,
Descend now and enter the fray,
For that is the center of His will.

Bind up the broken hearted,
Set the captive masses free.
Bid them look to the Healer
Lifted high upon the Tree. 

Places more permanent than tents
Jesus has gladly gone to prepare.
When He comes back to the earth,
Then in His glory you will share. 

Steeple & People

Steeple and people, quietism and activism, are two demands of the Christian life meant to be held in tension; however, as with most tensions, we tend to find ourselves off-balance in one direction or the other.

According to J.S. Stewart quietists are those Christians who are quick to embrace the indicative of the gospel but fail to catch the imperative. They believe in a mighty salvation accomplished by God and for them, the “one thing needful is to dwell in the secret place of the Most High, to cultivate the interior devotional life and aim at personal holiness.” Quietists are quick to look for the New Jerusalem, knowing that only there will the world find true rest and peace; however, they forget that God intends to use our labors to move our world closer to that ideal, that we are meant to pull the kingdom down to earth as it is heaven.

I think of quietists as steeple people. I know them well, as I tend to be one of them. Given the choice, I would much prefer to sit alone in my home and meet with God, cultivating intimacy with Him.

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On the other hand, activists are those who are quick to remember the imperative of the gospel, while minimizing its indicative. According to Stewart, “they are so vividly conscious of the demand to be up and doing fo the salvation of this atrociously needy world that they can scarce tarry to consider what God has done once for all.” The problem is that activists can be quick to put hope in this world and their own labor or movement, “a future Utopia to be achieved by toil and tears and sweat and blood,” which can often lead to disillusionment.

I think of activists as people people. They are drawn toward the masses, the orphan and the widow. They put feet to their faith and sometimes have little time for theology that does not land in the practical.

It seems that two such groups tended to exist, even in the early Church, as James had to remind the nascent church that activism and quietism were two sides of the same coin.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in the mirror and goes away and at once forgets what he looks like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing…Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.  James 1: 22-25 & 27. 

James sought to intertwine the two strands, activism and quietism. The letter he wrote to His churches that is now the book of James is often misread as being works-oriented as compared to the Pauline epistles; however, Paul and James are coming at the Christian life from two different angles, two different sides of the same coin. Both agree that the balanced Christian life, the desired end for every Christ follower, is a vital union of the two.

What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.  The indicative of the gospel, what Jesus has fully accomplished through his life, death and Resurrection sends us out with the imperative of the gospel, lives modeling and proclaiming His kingdom in a lost world.

However, we do not live in a world of the ideal, we live in a world of the real. As such, we would do well to know our tendencies and fight to bring balance by intentionally infusing missing elements to our lives by seeking active quietism or quiet activism.

Active quietism means that I force myself to flip the coin to see the people side rather than myopically focusing on the steeple. It looks like pushing through to initiate toward messy people and causes rather than staying within the bounds of my quiet time. It looks like days of service or time around large groups occasionally when I would rather be alone.

Quiet activism means sometimes choosing to reflect on what God has fully done on the Cross rather than focusing on all that is still left un-done in the broken world in which we remain. It looks like saying no, at times, to right causes that one might sit long in the presence of the Righteous One who will bring His kingdom to bear fully on earth in His timing.

Jesus, of course, is our model for both. He has sent the Spirit to more fully form each of His children into His image until the day when He, our steeple will fully be among His people forever.

 

Faultlines

Southern California sits on hidden faultlines. One would never know that they exist down there, until they collide.

What is true of the ground beneath my feet is also true for the heart I carry in my chest. My soul has a complex maze of faultlines that I don’t usually know exist until they collide, creating obvious repercussions in my life and those around me.

To be a broken human in a broken world is to have a broken, beating heart. We all carry faultlines, and those faultlines often collide with those unseen faultlines of others, even and especially those that we love most.

faultlines

I am not sure why I continue to be shocked that my faultlines and those of others I love collide and leave messes. Human history proves that from the beginning of the undoing of the original four-fold harmony of the world (peace with God, peace with man, peace with self and peace with the earth), people’s plates have been colliding. When Jesus was on the earth, he told us it would be so.

When Jesus died on the Cross, the earth shook as hidden plates collided in revolt. The earth seemed to shout out that this was not right, yet only by His death and Resurrection could things be made right.

He promised us His presence. He gave us His healing balm, a balm that could only come from One who, though innocent, has suffered all things. He sent us the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to lead and guide us into truth, to convict us, to enable to forgive and be forgiven.

When my faultlines get to moving, I find myself comforted by the obvious and regular collisions that occurred in the early Church. Paul, Peter and John, the three who spent the most time with Jesus, seem to spend most of their letters correcting and exhorting the broken body of Christ to continue to run to Christ in the midst of their conflicts.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:8-9. 

Two simple verses, barely over twenty words. Easy to read, easy to memorize, yet oh-so-hard to live. On my own, I do not have the kind of love that covers sins or even miscommunications. I have the kind of limited love that tends to underline and emphasize the faultlines of others while minimizing my own. It is only when I have lingered long in the healing streams of His lavished, sacrificial love that I can even begin to apply this love to the collisions around me and within me.

When your faultlines get to grumbling and colliding with others, it is my prayer that you would be quick to remember the one who brings harmony and healing through His power.

Throbbing

Inflamed soul wounds pulse and throb,
As much, if not more, than their physical kin. 
Unseen, yet frightfully real, pain and fear
Suddenly circulate from deep within. 

Your human heart throbbed, steady and strong,
Beating beautifully in time with the Father’s will.
You walked steadily toward death and distress,
Of plentiful pain you willingly drank Your fill.

Your heart, completely crushed by the curse,
Laid sedentary there in the grave.
Then, throbbing again with Risen Life,
Walked You right out of that cave. 

In prayer I present my throbbing heart
And open my pain and wounds to you. 
Then Your scarred hands get to work,
Sanctifying me through and through. 

There, with defenses finally laid down,
You speak Your hope into my story,
Making me throb with your love,
A love laced with grace and glory. 

 

 

Self as Subscript

My children excitedly await the significant and wildly intellectual publications to which they are subscribed: the Lego magazine and Nat Geo kids. When they arrive, we experience a mini household holiday with its accompanying sibling spats over who gets to read them first.

Besides the immensely cute pictures of unlikely animal friends, the favorite parts are the games, most notably the “What is it?” game whereby an extremely zoomed in picture of something is featured and they are to guess the larger context to which it belongs.

I believe that we, as humans first, then as a culture, and lastly and sadly, often as the Church, have often sought to live in such a zoomed in, overemphasized view of self.

To be certain, self has a place. After all, God created each human with a distinct self that was intended to be His delight; however, self must always be known for what it is: a dependent and derivative subscript of our gracious God.

We must be certain to begin with God and end with God in our knowledge of self and our leading others to know themselves.

As I have been preparing a women’s Bible study course, I have been wrestling with the concept of double knowledge,  summed up succinctly in Calvin’s Institutes.

“Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves” (Inst. I.1.i).

I long for the women to leave the short, blitzkrieg class with deeper double knowledge. To that end, we will be exploring Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways this week to learn how we have each been wired to experience God and His Word.

I have been hesitant in my heart to spend a week focusing on self. In light of our sinful hearts and our self-obsessed culture, I have feared that such exercises might only tend toward self-absorption or making time with Lord all about them or an experience. Then, this morning as I was praying and preparing, the Lord gave me the image of self as subscript.

letters

Subscript is signifiant, but not central. One must begin at the main text to even need or see the subscript. When one rightly uses a subscript, be it a footnote indication or a cross reference, one is not meant to remain there. What is found in subscript is meant to compel and propel us back to the main text in a more informed and interested way.

Thus, there is a place for self-knowledge in the Church and in our relationships with the Lord. Relationships, after all, imply and presuppose two parties seeking to know and be known by one another. I want these women to know the various ways that they most naturally meet with God and experience Him. But all self-knowledge should exist to the end of pointing us back in a deeper and more grateful way to the God who has created self as significant subscript.

I was helped greatly through Knowing God by J.I. Packer in regards to not completely losing the place and experience of self in the fear of self-absorbed Christianity.

“The emotional side of knowing God is often played down these days, for fear of encouraging a maudlin self-absorption. It is true that there is nothing more irreligious than self-absorbed religion and that is is constantly needful to stress that God does not exist for our comfort or happiness or satisfaction or to provide us with religious experiences, as if these were the most interesting and important things in life….But for all this, we must not lose sight of the fact that knowing God is an emotional relationship, as well as an intellectual and volitional one, and could not indeed be a deep relation between persons were it not so.” 

As we seek to encourage others to press on to know God, we would also do well to remember that all our knowledge of God exists only because of His underlying, unbelievable loving knowledge of us.

“What matters supremely, therefore, it not, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it- the fact that He knows me. I am graven on the palms of HIs hands. I am never out of HIs mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him because He first knew me and continues to know me.”(J.I. Packer, Knowing God).